FAQs

Polar Bear or Penguin ?

Polar bears may wear ONLY a standard one or two piece swimsuit ( non thermal, must not extend over the shoulders or below the knees ) and a single silicone, latex or lycra hat as well as goggles, noseclips and earplugs. NOTHING ELSE - No shoes, No boots, No gloves, No fancy hats, Nothing on your feet or hands or head except that already specified. Goggles must not enclose the nostrils.

Insulated swimsuits are NOT allowed.

Nothing on your feet.

No shoes, No gloves, No fancy hats.

Penguins may wear anything they wish.

EXTREME PENGUIN - ENTER THE STANDARD PENGUIN CHALLENGES .

Extreme Penguins are those completing the Penguin Challenge who wear a covering on their extremities ONLY ( in addition to a one or two piece standard swimsuit as per Polar Bear rules ) - To clarify - that is hands, feet and anything on the head. They will be recognised on the swim lists and on their certificates as an Extreme Penguin after  November's data has been submitted.

What are the Challenge levels ?

Polar Bear / Penguin Classic - dip, dunk, bob or otherwise 'Just Get In; up to your shoulders twice a month from 1 November  to 31 March.
Polar Bear / Penguin Silver - swim 250 metres twice a month from 1 November  to 31 March.
Polar Bear / Penguin Gold - swim 1000 metres  each month to include at least 250 metres twice a month from 1 November to 31 March.
Arctic Bear / Antarctic Penguin -swim 3000 metres each month to include 250 metres twice a month from 1 November to 31 March
Jedi Bear Apprentice / Ninja Penguin Apprentice - swim 3000 metres each month to include 250 metres twice a month from 1 November to 31 March and also a number of specified swims.
Jedi Bear / Ninja Penguin - swim 3000 metres each month to include 250 metres twice a month from 1 November to 31 March and also a number of specified swims.
When you enter – choose your Challenge – remember that during the course of the Challenge you may go down through the levels but not up. You may swap from Polar Bear to Penguin at any time
E.g. you can enter as Gold, Arctic or Jedi and slide down through Silver and Classic all the way to Penguin if the going gets tough. But you can’t enter as Classic and then upgrade to Gold…

Which level should I enter ?

There are several Polar Bear and Penguin challenge levels so you can choose the level to suit you.

If in doubt then enter one level above that which you feel comfortable at as you can always drop down a level as the challenge progresses but can't go up. Each month you will be emailed an online form to complete to confirm your swims. No proof of swims or distances is required (other than for Jedi / Ninja / Apprentice specified swims ) as this is an honesty event.

Gold or Arctic / Antarctic is the best one to aim for if you are undecided as the higher Jedi and Ninja levels are VERY onerous as they require you to swim a number of specified swims in water below 7 degrees  - The UK sea temperature rarely falls below 7 degrees so to achieve these levels you will need to travel or find a fresh water swimming area which drops to the required temperature.

For NOVEMBER ONLY - If you complete a higher level than that which you entered then you will be raised to that level. You will subsequently drop levels accordingly in the future months if needs be but this gives you a chance to check your boundaries. NB This rule does not apply to Jedi / Ninja / Apprentice levels.

If in doubt then enter one level above that which you feel comfortable at as you can always drop down a level as the challenge progresses but can't go up.

DO NOT enter Jedi / Ninja levels unless you are sure you can find water of the required temperature to complete the specified swims. The sea temperature in the UK rarely gets low enough to complete these levels unless you are in Scotland or the very far North of England so you will need to seek out fresh water swimming area ( fresh water gets colder than sea water in winter ) or travel. as the higher Jedi and Ninja levels are VERY onerous as they require you to swim a number of specified swims in water below 7 degrees  - The UK sea temperature rarely falls below 7 degrees so to achieve these levels you will need to travel or find a fresh water swimming area which drops to the required temperature.

You can enter the Polar Bear Challenge and the Penguin Challenge separately as two different events. 

If you want to challenge yourself for longer distances then you can enter Penguin to add the neoprene and get the distance / time in the water and then when your swim is finished you can strip off everything but the swimsuit to have a short dip to qualify as one of the shorter Polar Bear levels. Even if you just strip off the wetsuit before you exit the water and have a quick dunk that will be enough to qualify for Polar Bear Classic.

How do I verify my swims ?

You'll receive an email once a month with a link to an online form to send back to confirm you have done your swims. Other than for the Jedi / Ninja or Apprentice levels you do not need to send in any proof as it is an honesty challenge and you are only cheating yourself if you send in incorrect information. PLEASE NOTE - for Jedi / Ninja & apprentice swims at 7.00 degrees or less you will need to send in photographic evidence of the water temperature on TWO  thermometers, Digital thermometers are recommended but you may use  mercury thermometers as long as they both clearly show the temperature is BELOW the required specification N.B. the temperature MUST show on BOTH thermometers to be the required chilliness.  If using the temperature on your watch that is more tricky as you will need to submerge the watch in your chosen body of water ( not in a bowl or bucket as that can influence the temperature ) for long enough for the temp to stabilise and take a pic of the temp whilst the watch is still submerged.

What are the Jedi Bear / Ninja Penguin specified swims ?

Jedi & Ninja & Apprentice levels

1500 metres at 9 degrees or less
2000 metres at 9 degrees or less
1250 metres at 8 degrees or less
1750 metres at 8 degrees or less
1000 metres at 7 degrees or less
1500 metres at 7 degrees or less
750 metres at 6 degrees or less
1250 metres at 6 degrees or less
450 metres at 5 degrees or less
1000 metres at 5 degrees or less
NB - 1. The specified swims can be included in the 3000 metres monthly total
NB - 2. There must be a minimum of 24 hours between each of the specified swims.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR JEDI BEARS / NINJA PENGUINS.

This is an extreme challenge which should only be attempted by experienced cold water swimmers and a medical check up is advised.

UK temperatures may not get low enough to complete the challenge in the UK so some travel at your own expense may be necessary.

Several of the Jedi swims are individual qualifying swims for an Ice Mile attempt under IISA rules. Please refer to the IISA website for more information on Ice Miles https://www.internationaliceswimming.com/

 Can I change my Challenge level ?  -

For NOVEMBER ONLY - If you complete a higher level than that which you entered then you will be raised to that level. You will subsequently drop levels accordingly in the future months if needs be but this gives you a chance to check your boundaries. NB This rule does not apply to Jedi / Ninja / Apprentice levels.

After November 1st you can slide down the scale if you wish but you can’t go up. So you can aim for Arctic / Antarctic and slide down to Gold, Silver or Classic. You may swap from the same or higher Polar Bear to the same or lowere Penguin at any time but not vice versa.

 What if I am unable to complete my swims in a particular month due to illness or personal circumstances ?  -

Each swimmer has a Joker card they may play to give them a pass for one calendar month if they are unable to complete all their swims and do not want to drop down to the appropriate level for the swims that have been completed. The Joker may be played only once is is non transferable to another swimmer.

Sea Swimming  -

Swimming in the sea is fine but make sure you're not taking advantage of the current/tide. If swimming with the tide then you need to swim as much distance with the tide as you do against it. The sea is warmer than fresh water in the winter.
However if you're swimming on slack tide half an hour either side of the top of the tide then there will be minimal current so that's ok to count as a one way  ...

Lake Swimming  -

Lake swimming is fine. There's not normally any current to be aware of. Fresh water lakes will be colder than the sea in winter

River Swimming -

Make sure you're not taking advantage of the current/tide. If swimming with the tide then you need to swim as much distance with the tide as you do against it. Fresh water will be cooler than the sea. Some rivers that have strong currents may not be suitable for Polar Bear Challenge swims.

Lido Swimming ( generally unheated only - read on if yours is occasionally heated ) -

Similar to lake swimming lidos are usually colder than the sea in winter. You don't need to worry about any currents or tides but to prevent unfair advantage by turns pushing off the wall you are not allowed to touch the wall or bottom of the pool at any time during your swim unless your lido is 50 metres or more in length.

Some lidos are partially heated i.e. the heating is on some of the time or the temperature is kept above a minimum level ( usually about 11 degrees ).

In this case the temperature when you swim must be no higher than the maximum UK natural sea or fresh water temperature at the time ( email me for more clarification if required ).

Because lidos are fresh water they are usually colder than the sea so a little heating may NOT be enough to STOP Polar Bear or Penguin swimming but it will vary from pool to pool.

Can I count more than one swim a day ?

You can count more than one of the mandatory 250 metres swims or dips a day  but you must exit the water after each swim or dip and spend at least 10 minutes on dry land between swims or dips for them to count as separate swims. The same ruke applies for any other swims UNLESS  you are Jedi / Ninja or Apprentice then you must leave at least 24 hours between each of the specified swims.
Do not underestimate the difficulty of the Jedi  Ninja  Apprentice specified swims - these levels are very arduous and are recommended for experienced cold water swimmers only.

What can I wear ?

The challenge levels for Polar Bear and Penguin mirror each other - the difference is in what you can wear.
Polar Bear Challenge is run under the same clothing rules as the Channel Swimming Association and the International Ice Swimming Association which means you can ONLY wear a standard swimsuit ( non thermal, must not extend over the shoulders or below the knees ) and a single silicone, latex or fabric hat as well as goggles, noseclips and earplugs. NOTHING ELSE - No shoes, No boots, No gloves, No fancy hats, Nothing on your feet or hands or head except that already specified. Goggles must not enclose the nostrils.
You may not use any cream, lotion, vaseline or similar to insulate your skin against the cold but you may use this solely for anti chafing purposes if required.
Penguins have no clothing rules.

EXTREME PENGUIN - ENTER THE STANDARD PENGUIN CHALLENGES .

Extreme Penguins are those completing the Penguin Challenge who wear a covering on their extremities ONLY ( in addition to a one or two piece standard swimsuit as per Polar Bear rules ) - To clarify - that is hands, feet and anything on the head. They will be recognised on the swim lists and on their certificates as an Extreme Penguin after  November's data has been submitted.

If you have a medical condition that requires you to wear a support or use a float then that may be allowed as long as it gives you no undue assistance and you must have the use of the equipment pre approved by MamaBear.

How do I measure my distance?

It's an honesty challenge so it's up to you and your conscience to swim the required distance.
You can measure by using a Garmin or similar or by tracking your path on Google Earth or by using known landmarks to track distance.

But it's cold !!

The water is still relatively warm in November and if you just keep getting in regularly you will acclimitise - however if you do get to the point where it's not fun anymore then you can drop down through the challenges.
The water is usually coldest in late January / February when it can drop below 5 degrees however different places can vary by 3 or 4 degrees and in the winter the sea will be warmer than freshwater.

I have sensitive feet and can't walk on the beach/shingle/jetty/stones/rocks........?

It's all about the swimming - not the getting on and out so you are allowed to wear something on your feet to enter the water but must take them off and chuck them back on the beach or attach them to you or put them in a tow float for the duration of the swim - then put them back on to exit the water.....

What about my ears ? I get earache in the cold....

Swimmers Ear and Surfers Ear are recognised conditions - try earplugs. Earplugs are allowed under Polar Bear rules.

I'm not comfortable in just a cossie - I'd rather cover up a bit .....

It's all about the swimming - not the getting on and out so you are allowed to wear whatever you like to enter the water but can only wear a cossie, goggles. single hat, noseclips & earplugs ( if you're a Polar Bear ) for the duration of the actual swim so chuck your accessories back on the beach or attach them to you or put them in a tow float for the duration of the swim - then put them back on to exit the water.....
I've done fine through November & December but I'm feeling the cold now - How do I get through it ?
There's lots of support and advice available on the facebook group - nobody's a superhero - we all feel the cold.......MamaBear will give you lots of hints to help you ( learned through cold, hard experience !! ).

I'm swimming outside of the UK - does that count for Polar Bear / Penguin Challenge?

For swims taking place outside of the UK the water temperature must be at the same number of whole degrees as the current maximum outdoor natural water temperature in the UK ;
E.g.
max UK water temperature 11.1 - all overseas swims must be below 12 degrees.

What do I get when I complete the Challenge ?

Everybody who completes their nominated Challenge gets a sew on badge and certificate and a medal.

Link to Facebook Group